The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

She was targeted as a black Muslim woman in a football ad. Here’s how she responded.

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The Stanford football game advertisement was typical for what’s often issued by colleges around game day: a group of students, smiling and cheering in the stands and displaying school colors. One of the fans pictured, a black Muslim student at the center of the frame, was dressed in a hijab. That’s what got the attention of some online commenters last week.

“That Hijab Or whatever is being shoved right done [sic] my throat!” one user wrote on Facebook.

“What a ridiculous advertisement. You had to throw a Muslim in there, didn’t you,” another commented, adding, “Disgusting. Not one white person in that ad. Screw Stanford.”

One Facebook user left a comment saying, “Hey Stanford take the Muslim bull—- elsewhere, we don’t wanna see it…” to which another replied, “Take the Islamophobia elsewhere, we really don’t wanna hear it.”

Tesay Yusuf, the Muslim student in the ad and a junior at the university, didn’t immediately see the ad for a Stanford “VIP Football Experience” because it was sponsored through a third-party company that uses Facebook’s audience-specific advertising, as school officials later told her. The image appeared on Facebook and was shared on the site by the Stanford Club, eventually finding its way to Yusuf.

“We all thought it was pretty cool that they had used the picture of us for the ad and didn’t make much of it otherwise,” she wrote in an email to The Post.

But the self-described first-generation American and first-generation college student soon noticed the comments, and she made the decision to reveal a few of the more vitriolic responses on her Twitter account Saturday morning.

“I became more frustrated, which led me to share the tweet,” wrote Yusuf, who was born in Maryland and grew up in the Washington, D.C., area. “I wasn’t expecting the tweet to get so much attention.”

At press time, Yusuf’s post has been retweeted more than 6,000 times and liked over 5,000 times. Many users offered words of support, calling Yusuf “gorgeous,” imploring her to “keep spreading your light,” and saying “Stanford should be honored to have you in the pic.”

“Thankfully almost every single response I’ve gotten has been extremely positive,” Yusuf, an international relations major who is minoring in African and African American studies, wrote in her email. “I also know that the people who made those hateful comments are random people who probably have no connection to Stanford whatsoever.”

Yusuf tweeted that Stanford Athletics was “being really great with the whole situation” and added that she had been told that the comments were being deleted.

For Yusuf, there was a powerful takeaway from the whole experience.

“Unfortunately, as a Black Muslim woman I see people who look like me attacked on the internet all the time. Our current political climate has made it acceptable for people to be openly bigoted in lieu of what they’d call ‘political correctness.’ A few Stanford students enjoying themselves and cheering on their football team did not warrant such a negative response,” she wrote to The Post.

“As women of color, we deserve to be treated just as any Stanford students would. But the fact that this image was atypical and did not show white students seems to have angered some folks. I appreciate the ad, and I’d urge people to question what it is in our society that makes people think it’s okay to spew vitriol towards people they don’t know.”